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Migration & Refugees

Morocco’s Migrant Workers Struggle to Send Money Home

Last year, global diaspora remittances totalled 650 billion dollars, three times the amount of foreign aid given to developing countries. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

MARRAKECH, Morocco, Dec 10 2018 (IPS) - Morocco may be hosting the United Nation’s historic Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) conference. But when it comes to remittances—migrant employees, entrepreneurs and business owners all face the same challenge in Morocco: sending money legally to their home countries.

Remittances is an all-important issue for migrants and their families left in the land of their origin, and one of the compact’s 23 objectives. However, Moroccan legislation limits money transfers abroad, in effect preventing migrant workers supporting their families or investing in their home countries.

“I have been working for more than 4 years now in Morocco, but I have never been able to invest in my home country,” says Esther, a Congolese migrant working as a journalist in Morocco. “I cannot help my family, because Moroccan money cannot be sent abroad.”

Last year, global diaspora remittances totalled 650 billion dollars, three times the amount of foreign aid given to developing countries. This continual familial fiscal flow significantly helps reduce poverty, by providing funds for health, education, and the launching of businesses.

Morocco’s own diaspora plays a significant part in its own economy. Money transfers from the Moroccan diaspora reached more than 60 billion dollars in 2015, representing 6 percent of the country’s GDP, according to a 2017 World Bank report.

Nevertheless, if Morocco is aware of the importance of its diaspora’s role in its economy, that isn’t reflected in its financial policy that does not allow the country’s migrant workers to also contribute to the development of their home countries.

Like most migrant workers in Morocco—the majority of whom come from sub-Saharan countries—Esther fell back on informal money transfer networks to sustain her family, giving money to an agent in Morocco.

“Several times I sent some money to my family through these informal networks, but I was never at ease because it is risky,” Esther says. “Most of the time you don’t know the person you are negotiating with. He or she might steal your money.”

She recalls that two years ago, her cousin, also living in Morocco, fell victim to a dishonest money transfer network that he had used before. “My cousin used to make money transfers with a friend of his. But one day, he gave his friend 17,000 dirhams ($1,900) to transfer to his family. The guy vanished.”

Due to such risks, some migrants adopt other strategies, such as annual fiscal pilgrimages, taking the money limit permitted by Moroccan customs. Emilie, a Congolese hairdresser in Casablanca, travels back to her home country every six months to buy merchandise and deposit earnings in a Congo account.

“I have no choice, I have to travel regularly in order to save my earnings at home, knowing that I cannot leave Morocco with a big amount of money,” Emilie says.

But while this option allows migrants to subvert money transfer barriers and the risks of dishonest brokers, it costs much more because of the flight, which for many migrant workers is unaffordable and hence makes the strategy unfeasible.

Unbeknownst to most migrants, a Moroccan law actually does allow people to send a set amount per year—10 000 dirhams (1,050 dollars)—to each member of a person’s immediate family.

But this method requires lots of paperwork and proofs of identity. Also, members of the same family must have the same name and if not the case—a common occurrence among families in sub-Saharan families—the bank will reject a transfer demand or demand additional papers legalized at the embassy.

Often banks simply decline to assist. Observers note how it’s not just migrant workers who are negatively impacted by tight money transfer rules in countries like Morocco that drive people to use illegal money transfer networks: government exchequers lose out on the likes of fees and taxes generated by legal transfer systems.

“Despite these constraints, I think it is a step [in the right direction] to be able to send money, even if it is only for family support,” says Esther, while noting how investment remains a challenge. “I thought about buying an apartment in my country, but it is not possible to send a big amount of money.”

Objective 22 of the GCM’s cooperative framework aims to “Establish mechanisms for the portability of social security entitlements and earned benefits.” Whether that proves good enough for migrant workers in Morocco remains to be seen, now that the compact has officially been adopted as of the morning of Dec. 10.

“If I leave Morocco today and return back to my home country, there will be nothing there for me,” Esther says. “It is really a pity after so many years of work.”

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